May 30, 2016

What's on TV? Thursday, June 5, 1958

I hope you're all having a pleasant Memorial Day today. As everyone knows, this marks the unofficial start of summer, although down here in Texas it feels as if it's been summer for a few weeks. And if the weather isn't hot enough for you, the TV certainly should be. This week's journey takes us to Iowa, the western neighbors to the land of my birth. I don't know if I'm correct, but I think this is the first time we've done an all-Iowa edition, and in honor of the occasion (since I don't know that much about Iowa television), I present you with the best jokes Minnesotans tell about Iowa.

May 28, 2016

This week in TV Guide: May 31, 1958

This week's TV Guide comes to us courtesy of my friend and co-worker Rick Stokes, who found this issue from Iowa when clearing out his mother's home, and graciously loaned it to me, correctly thinking I'd be interested. It's a reminder that if you have an old issue you'd like me to write about, I'd be happy to do so - just send me an email, and I'll take good care of your issue, don't worry!

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From television's first days, there have been those expressing concerns about the medium's effect on children. And from those first days, TV Guide has stuck up for television, contending that television has tremendous potential while allowing (in often sharply-worded articles by Edith Efron) that it hasn't always lived up to it.

This week, we learn about that upside for television, from Sam Levenson. He's probably not well-remembered, but in the '50s and '60s he made a name for himself as a former schoolteacher turned comedian/author, and his gentle humor was a regular feature on talk shows and game shows.

He begins with a recitation of all the bad things he's heard about television: that it's producing bad study habits, that youngsters no longer read books, they don't take music lessons seriously, and they're becoming "a generation of passive recipients of network-tailored entertainment which is best appreciated in the dark." Actually, except for the reference to "network-tailored," it sounds a lot like what you're apt to hear people say about television today. Ah, plus ça change, as Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr would say.

In fact, Levenson doesn't see that much wrong with television, except perhaps that schools don't know how to use it.* He doesn't blame kids for watching "the most colorful and exciting medium of entertainment that the world has produced," and challenges those who criticize television inherently by looking back on his own, TV-less childhood. "How many ballet companies did I see when I was a kid? How many good dramatic performances? How many good acrobats, singers, magicians?"

*Now there's a revelation.

Sam Levenson
The key is for the teacher to understand that since he can't talk louder than the television, he must learn to work with it. For example, use science-fiction shows as a springboard to teaching astronomy. Use the immense popularity of TV Westerns to lure kids in to the true life of cowboys settling the frontier, to Indian culture, to how the railroads were built, and more. Play quiz shows in the classroom! Make puppets and put on a show, just like they do with Kukla and Ollie! And for high school-level children, discuss television's "dramatic, literary, historic, musical and other cultural values." In short, we must learn to adapt to and use television in the same way we have other inventions throughout the centuries.

These are noble words, of course, but if you look at what your 200+ channels bring you today, the sad answer is not much. No ballet, staged drama, acrobats or magicians. This is what many feared would happen, and Levenson worries about it as well, as his closing words indicate:

Ed Sullivan offered the public a series of Metropolitan Opera performances on his show. What happened? Mostly indifference, plus complaints.

If parents and teachers want culture for themselves and for their children, let them vote for it by tuning in on it. Both the sponsors and the performers will be grateful.

And, the suggestion goes, so will the children - if not now, then when they're older.

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Speaking of Ed Sullivan, let's take a quick look at what he and Steve Allen have to offer in their dueling 7:00 pm (CT) Sunday timespots.

Sullivan: Canadian comics Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster are hosts tonight while Ed is at the Brussels World's Fair. Guests include French ballet stars Jeanmarie and Rolan Petit: singer-comedienne Edie Adams; the Amin Brothers, Egyptian novelty act; and singers Jimmie Rodgers, Doretta Morrow, Sallie Blair, Johnny Ray and Mario Del Monaco. Ed returns next week.

Allen: Steve's guests are actor Henry Fonda, comedienne Martha Raye, singer Mel Torme, New York City TV-personality Shari Lewis, clarinetist Gus Bivona and vibraharpist Terry Gibbs. Also included are Steve's regulars Martha Raye, Tom Posten, Louis Nye and Don Knotts.

For some reason, Ed loved the Canadian comedy team of Wayne and Shuster, and had them on all the time. Many other people didn't find them that funny. I don't know how I feel about them myself, but they do have an interesting lineup, with Edie Adams (aka Mrs. Ernie Kovacs), Johnnie Ray (at least I think that's who they're referring to), Mario Del Monaco from the Metropolitan Opera, and Jimmie Rodgers and his yodeling. But to tell you the truth, I think Steverino has a much stronger show this week - Henry Fonda! Mel Torme! Shari Lewis (and Lambchop?), before she replaced Howdy Doody on Saturday mornings! Martha Raye! Sorry, Ed - this week Allen has it all over you, and even you aren't on your show.

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Here's a program that probably has some relevancy today. It's a Sunday afternoon public-affairs program on NBC, moderated by Meet the Press host Lawrence Spivak, called The Big Issue, and this week it examines the topic "Religion and the Presidency." The question posed by Spivak: "Do religious factors still influence the choice of a President?" Among the guests are Dr. John Mackay, president of Princeton Theological Seminary, Rep. Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), Rev. Francis Sayre Jr., dean of Washington Cathedral, and Glenn Archer, director of the National Commission on Church and State. After the four discuss the topic, they're questioned by a panel of newspapermen.

I'd be interested to see how this show played out. In 1958 the question isn't really whether or not religion had a place in the public square; the overwhelming consensus is that it does. There's still prayer in public schools, most Americans go to church on Sundays, profanity is frowned upon in polite company, and content of movies and television programs is closely examined to ensure it maintains certain standards.

SOURCE: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
No, I suspect the real question concerns the impending candidacy of John F. Kennedy for the presidency, and whether or not America is ready to elect a Roman Catholic president. This will be a major point of the 1960 campaign, with the question "Will Kennedy take orders from Rome?" remaining a concern for many Protestants even after Kennedy adroitly addressed it in front of a group of Houston ministers*. There is still a broad swath of anti-Catholicism in America in the '50s and early '60s, particularly in the South, and the presence on the panel of Gene McCarthy, a Catholic politician, is probably an indication that this is going to come up. It's also likely there was discussion as to whether or not particular religious groups will continue to vote as a block (i.e. Catholics and Jews voting Democratic), or perhaps even a question about whether or not Americans would vote for a divorced candidate (as would be the case when Nelson Rockefeller ran in 1964).

*Kennedy really skirted the issue, laying the groundwork for the type of Catholic candidate that downplays his own Catholicism, but that's a discussion for another day.

I wonder what this discussion would be like today? You've got one candidate with multiple marriages and a spotty religious record taking on another candidate whose husband was reportedly a serial adulterer, both of them vying to replace a president whose religion (or lack thereof) has been a perpetual point of discussion. All this while the very topic of religious freedom remains up in the air. Yes, I can see where this would be a very interesting show.

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John Forsythe, star of Bachelor Father, worries that he's overlooked on the show, or as the author of this unbylined article puts it, he "gets about as much attention as the father of the bride at a wedding." He's surrounded by scene steelers: children, dogs, a dialect comedian (Sammee Tang), and a femme fatale (Judy Bamber). With that crew, what chance does Forsythe have? Fortunately, he owns one-third of the show, so he's not going to suffer from it.

John Forsythe had a long and illustrious career, and if he really was worried about being upstaged by his co-stars, I'm sure he made up his mind that this would never, ever happen to him again. Not in Charlie's Angels, where even though he didn't appear in person, there was no chance that people would be more interested in three very attractive, extremely shapely young women bouncing around as they fought crime, right? Or that successful run in Dynasty; remember how, whenever he appeared on camera, nobody even looked at Linda Evans and Joan Collins? No, I didn't think so. John Forsythe was successful (and rich) because he was nobody's fool.

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In sports, we've another look at remnants of the Red Scare, even though Joe McCarthy died last year, when the Philadelphia Phillies take on the Cincinnati Redlegs in the season's first Saturday afternoon Game of the Week. If you know anything about baseball, you know that the team in question is the once and future Cincinnati Reds. But what's the history of the "Redlegs" name?

It started in 1953, as a reaction to the stigma of the term "Reds," and eventually the famous wishbone C with the word "Reds" (right) was replaced by "Mr. Redlegs," with a simple "C" on his jersey. The franchise name was never officially changed to Redlegs, and 1958 will be the last year for the name substitution, with the familiar Reds moniker returning in 1959. It will be 1960 before the Reds logo returns to the uniforms though, and even in 1961 you can still find items with the Redlegs brand on them.

According to this website, the term "Redlegs" originally referred to "a specific group of poor white people living on various islands in the Caribbean (generally originally from Ireland and Scotland). They were also commonly known as 'white slaves'." One can only imagine the kind of outcry that would occur today were it known  that a team's nickname had such an origin. If you think the dispute over the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians is bad...

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A quick spin through the rest of this issue:

The venerable Saturday night institution Your Hit Parade (NBC) will have left the airwaves by this time next year, but it's still on this week, with the #1 hit song "All I Have to Do Is Dream" by the Everly Brothers. You won't see them performing the song on the show, though - it will be one of the show's famous stable of singers, which perhaps plays a part in why the show eventually goes off the air. Rock songs of the era, when they're not done by the original performers, can often fall flat. Have you ever heard Snooky Lanson sing "Hound Dog"? Hey, it may not be true, but it makes the point, doesn't it?

On Sunday's Jack Benny Program (CBS), "Jack tells Rochester that he wants to get a good night's sleep and is not to be disturbed. But Jack's sleep is interrupted when a burglar gets into the house." Is this one of the episodes where the crook says, "Your money or your life" and Jack replies, "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" I've seen it, but I can't remember. Let's find out.


(Click for Parts One and Two)

Monday night's episode of Richard Diamond, Private Detective (KTVO, delayed from last week) has Diamond promising a dying gangster he'll look after his moll, but "He doesn't realize that the promise will endanger his own life." Why not? He ought to know his life's in danger every week - doesn't he watch his own show? Seriously, David Janssen's Diamond TV series is, I think, quite different from Dick Powell's more breezy radio version. Janssen isn't a singing private eye (for which we can all be grateful, I'm sure), and the show has a harder, more noir-like quality about it. I like them both.

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (Tuesday, ABC) features that trope about someone trying to frame Wyatt by filling his saddlebags with money, leading the townspeople to believe he's been taking bribes. Come on, people. It's the third season of this show - don't you know your lawman by now? This kind of plot line is a staple of just about any series that runs long enough - perhaps it's a sign that the writers have run out of ideas. I can't believe people turn that quickly, but then maybe it's a commentary on how fickle the public really is. Look at High Noon if you need further evidence.

On The Millionaire (CBS, Wednesday), "A policewoman sets out to prove the innocence of her policeman fiance, who is accused of robbery and murder." (Sounds a bit like Wyatt Earp's predicament, doesn't it?) The million dollars "enables her to post bail for her fiance and to buy information from a notorious criminal." Let me get this straight - bail and a lead from a snitch costs one million dollars? I'd hate to think what that would be with inflation.

The regular run of Richard Diamond is on Thursday (except for KTVO), and this week "A young woman asks Diamond to help clear her fiance of a hit-and-run charge. In his attempt to prove the young man's innocence, Diamond finds himself up against a powerful crime syndicate." Wait a minute - did the writers for all of the week's shows get together and coordinate their scripts? There are more frame jobs here than a Michaels store.

Friday night ends with Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans (syndicated, KRNT), and Hawkeye is out to prove that Chief Black Wolf and his tribe are being framed by a military scout who accuses them of attacking white settlers. I really thought I'd have to look hard to keep this joke going, but it was right there in front of me. But if you're interested in something else, Jimmy Powers announces the fight for the vacant world welterweight championship live from the St. Louis Arena, as top-rated Virgil Akins takes on the number two contender, Vince Martinez. Akins, the hometown hero, knocks Martinez down four times in the first round en route to a fourth-round victory, and the welterweight championship.

May 27, 2016

Around the dial

bare-bones e-zine continues "The Hitchcock Project," which is particularly enjoyable for me insofar as it is currently reviewing a series of episodes I've seen in the last few months. This week, it's the droll 1958 story "Fatal Figures," with the wonderful John McGiver in the lead role. Once you've read about it, you'll want to see it.

Speaking of Hitch, Christmas TV History takes us back to the 1955 Christmas episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, "Santa Claus and the 10th Avenue Kid," with a terrific performance from the great Barry Fitzgerald, although it is sad to think that he embarked on a life of crime after apparently giving up the priesthood. (As the man says, "That's a joke, son.")

The Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland has a pictorial tribute to actor Ben Alexander on the occasion of his 105th birthday. He's best known as Officer Frank Smith, the quirky partner to Jack Webb's Joe Friday on the original Dragnet, but he had other acting gigs as well, and even hosted a game show. As good as it may have been, I'll always resent Felony Squad because, by appearing in it as a regular, it prevented Alexander from reuniting with Webb on the late '60s rebirth of Dragnet.

Carol Ford has an excerpt from Bob Crane's 1960 appearance on Del Moore's radio show at Vote For Bob Crane. One of the many good aspects of Carol's biography of Crane is that it reminds us of the impact he had in radio prior to starring in Hogan's Heroes, and this serves to give us an example of that radio talent at work, even as a guest.

Envisioning a parody of a parody is kind of like getting lost in an Escher drawing, but Cult TV Blog is able to pull it off with this look at these very funny (and very dirty) parodies of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I wonder why nobody's thought to make a Man From S.T.U.D. movie series yet? It sounds as if it would have been right up Showtime's alley, back in the day. Now watch as someone tells me it's already been done...

British TV Detectives introduces us to another of the iconic characters that have populated shows like Masterpiece Mystery over the years, with this review of A Touch of Frost. I confess that this is one I've never checked out, though I'm certainly familiar with it. Perhaps I should give it a chance - that is, whenever I get the time.

I tend to like television episodes penned by the late Stephen J. Cannell, although I'll always remember him best for his over-the-top performances as Jackson Burley in Diagnosis: Murder.* Lincoln X-ray Ida takes us to one of those episodes, the lightly humorous Season 3 episode  "Post Time."

*I seldom ever watched that series, but always made time for it when Cannell was on.

At The Horn Section, Hal takes a look at the ultimate hip-cop series Get Christie Love! (and you have to love the exclamation point, don't you?) with the baddest lady cop of them all, Teresa Graves, in the episode "Highway to Murder."  Friends, if you find yourself on that road, take my advice and get off of it as soon as possible. Does guest star Clu Gulager play a psychotic? What do you think?

Finally, a reminder that if you liked the Movin' On interviews yesterday, head on over to their Facebook page as well as the link to their website, which you can find on the sidebar.

May 25, 2016

Interview: Movin' On with Executive Producer Barry Weitz and series remasterer Mark Rathaus

FRANK CONVERSE (LEFT) AND CLAUDE AKINS RIDE THEIR BIG RIG ACROSS THE COUNTRY IN MOVIN' ON
Although it was only on for two seasons, the NBC drama Movin' On was one of the iconic series of the 1970s, capturing perfectly the popularity of CB radios and presenting a vivid look at life of the long-distance trucker. With two very appealing leads in Claude Akins as veteran trucker Sonny Pruitt and Frank Converse as young, college-educated Will Chandler, and a memorable theme song sung by the great Merle Haggard, the show built up a loyal following, and remained part of the cultural lexicon for years thereafter.

The series is now getting a second life through Hulu.com and ProClassicTV.com, thanks to the efforts of Mark Rathaus, who has diligently remastered the series to make it look even better than it did during its original run. Recently, it was my pleasure to fire some questions at Barry J. Weitz, one of the original co-producers of Movin' On, as well as having a chance to ask Mark more about the process of preparing the series for streaming. The interview begins below the jump.

May 23, 2016

What's on TV: Friday, June 1, 1956

Friday is my favorite evening of the work week, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that opinion. It's also my favorite night for TV, even more than Saturday night. (Although that's kind of like asking whether you prefer chocolate or popcorn - you can't lose.) That's why I always enjoy looking at the Friday listings; sometimes you'll find the stations broadcast later, there are more late night movies, there's something more exciting about it all.

Today's listings - which, by the way, are from Dallas-Fort Worth - are not extremely interesting, at least not to our eyes today. They're fun, as these always are, but nothing jumps off the page. Imagine yourself back in 1956 though, home after a long week of work. Now you can relax, the two of you, loosen your tie and put your feet up on the ottoman and let the tube take your mind off your worries. Of course, that Wednesday had been Memorial Day - they still celebrated it on May 30 back then - and so you might have been lucky enough to get the rest of the week off. Still, there's nothing like Friday!

Maybe it's Steve Allen and his revolutionary new talk show Tonight on Channel 5. Or it could be the suspense movie on Channel 11's Starlight Theater,  Models, Inc. with Howard Duff and Coleen Gray as a gangster and his moll. If you're in the mood for a little spy fun, it could be I Was an American Spy, the Late Date Theater on Channel 6.

Whatever you're looking for, chances are one of these six stations will have it for you, as you wind down for the weekend.

May 21, 2016

This week in TV Guide: May 26, 1956

Last week we mentioned in passing Norma Zimmer, for 23 years the Champagne Lady on The Lawrence Welk Show. Zimmer was the longest-running of the Ladies, and the one I remember from my grandparents having had the Welk show on every Saturday, but in 1956 the one and only Champagne Lady was Alice Lon, this week's cover girl.

Lon was Champagne Lady from 1954 to 1959. As her status on the cover would indicate, she was quite the celebrity of the time: a member of the Kilgore Rangerettes as a young girl living in Texas, married to former football player Bob Waterman, and a featured singer on Don McNeill's Breakfast Club radio program before joining the Welk orchestra, where she's become famous for the petticoats she wears.

For classic television fans, Alice Lon's primary fame comes not from her performances with Welk, but for the circumstances surrounding her departure in 1959. She left the program over "music and money issues," but the legend has it that she was dismissed for "showing too much leg." The always-reliable Wikipedia pronounces this an urban legend, and Lon herself said the dispute was over money, but UPI quotes the conservative Welk as having said, "Her knee showed too much. Cheesecake doesn't fit on our show," adding that "Our show goes into homes and I have always opposed anything the least bit immoral."

Is the "too much leg" story true or not? Later, Welk would say that "I don't think she was let go for that*. . . What you folks hear out there sometimes is from people who know nothing about it. The writers who create a story like that, they get a little more print. I've never been a person to lower the boom on people. If I was, they wouldn't stay with me."

*Which begs the question: if Welk says "I don't think," does that mean he doesn't know why she was let go? If not, who does? Isn't he the boss? I suspect this was a rhetorical phrase, saying that wasn't the reason she left while refusing to disclose what the actual reason was.

I'm sure this is a point I don't need to belabor, but consider the difference in attitudes and mores - arguing as to whether or not Lon's knee showed "too much" - between then and now. No, wait, better yet - let's fast-forward four years, to 1960, and Jack Paar's walkout on The Tonight Show over his infamous W.C. joke. By that time we're out of the '50s, at least chronologically. During the follow-up program - the one in which Paar dramatically walks off the show - he talks for a moment about his television philosophy, how he doesn't want "girls with low cut dresses" on the show. It's "nicer to dress like the people who watch," he says. He also doesn't look for people who come on the show to advertise their problems, though he says this not to knock whatever problems they might have. His goal is to bring on people the audience will find "fun," and he specifically mentions Christine Jorgensen - ironic, don't you think? "I don't want people like that on the show," he says. By contrast, this very day I read a review of Amy Schumer's latest program which, though there are parts that may be very funny, appears to be "intentionally testing basic cable’s allowance for repetitions of the word pussy." Discuss.

Whether or not Alice Lon got the sack because of the way she dressed, or how she crossed her legs when sitting on a desk, we'll probably never know. The point is this: the audience found that explanation entirely plausible to the era and to Welk's sensibilities. They might not have liked it, they might have found it draconian, but even if such an attitude was antiquated back then, it would have been at least understandable. Today, if you made that kind of suggestion, you'd probably be locked up in Bellevue.

At any rate, whatever the reason, there was in fact something of a public outcry over Lon's departure, not unlike the larger kerfuffle when Arthur Godfrey dismissed the recently-deceased Julius LaRosa*, and eventually Welk was forced to ask her to return. She refused, and although they eventually reconciled, they never performed together again.

*RIP.
***

On Friday night, the dramatic anthology series Schlitz Playhouse of Stars (CBS, 7:30pm CT) presents "The Unlighted Road," starring the late James Dean. Dean had only appeared in a few television plays, this being one of them, before being killed in an automobile accident a little less than a year ago, on September 30, 1955.

In one of those little footnotes that I love to run across, the kind that tells you more not for what it says but what it doesn't say, the TV Guide listing mentions his achievements in East of Eden (for which he received a posthumous Oscar nomination for Best Actor) and the immortal Rebel Without a Cause, but not Giant - it hasn't even been released yet. Next year, that movie will earn him another posthumous Best Actor nomination

In "The Unlighted Road," Dean plays a former GI who takes a job at a diner and winds up being implicated in a robbery and murder. What kind of an actor was he at this point, on the verge of superstardom? Take a look for yourself.


***

Here's what appears to be an interesting hour on Monday night's Robert Montgomery Presents (7:30pm, NBC). It's the play "Who," written by Robert Wallace.

Its thesis is that a man is many men, and to illustrate this, seven actors will play the seven personalities of one man, a certain Mr. Who.* These personalities run the gamut from godlike to wretched. Our Mr. Who, containing all these personalities, is seen during a typical day in his life, from the time he appears for breakfast. Mr. Who is a bank official, a husband and an Elk. As an Elk, he is up for office. As a bank official, he is up for promotion - as assistant to the vice president. As a husband, he is up for his morning coffee, and this is where our tale begins.

*That's Doctor Who to you, pal. After all, how many actors have played The Doctor? And they're all part of the same personality, right?

I have no idea whether or not this was any good, but it's a fascinating idea, and truly creative. Moreso than much of what's on TV, then or now.

***

TV Guide has always been suspicious of government interference in television, frequently using its editorials to chastise television executives for not policing themselves lest the government be forced to step in and do the policing themselves. This week, the editorial cites British television viewers, who have sent the resounding message that "commercial television is more popular with viewers than the noncommercial variety."

Since the advent of British television, the BBC has had a monopoly on programming. In fact, it's the only channel televisions can receive. But last September, not long before the death of James Dean, and after years of debate, the first commercial television station debuted in London. Despite the fact that TV owners have to pay as much as $50 for a converter that allows them to receive the new station, it has been a roaring success. "The 10 most popular programs in the London area today are all on the commercial channel. I Love Lucy, Dragnet, Roy Rogers and Robin Hood, along with some quiz shows based on American ones, and some fine dramatic offerings, are included in the Top 10."

The commercial provider in question, I believe, is ITV, and there's no question it changes the face of British television. Unlike government-subsidized programming, the ads purchased to air on ITV "are supposed to be absolutely independent of the programs offered." As the editorial concludes, "The moral is obvious: In commercial TV, viewers see what they want to see. In the other kind, viewers see what someone else wants them to see." As last year's debacle over Top Gear demonstrates, it is a moral that the BBC still seems incapable of understanding.

***

Some random notes:

Remember the days when networks used to take all the failed pilots from the past year or two and group them together into an anthology series that would run in the summer? We're seeing it now, as "ABC [will be] presenting a collection of test films as summer replacement for the Danny Thomas show. The new summertime sponsor will hold that Tuesday night period next fall, which means Make Room for Daddy must move to a new time period." Test films, which I've also seen referred to as "audition films." Huh - I guess it sounds better than "failed pilot."

On Thursday's matinee movie Theater 11 (on Channel 11, natch), it's The Judge, starring Milburn Stone. Better known as Doc Adams in Gunsmoke. Movie ought to have been called The Doctor, no? But then people might have thought it was about Doctor Who. I know, you're thinking that's impossible, since Doctor Who doesn't debut until 1963. But he's a time traveler, right? OK, I've probably pushed the Doctor Who jokes enough for one week.

Martin and Lewis are said to be looking to get out of their four-show commitment for 8:00pm Tuesday night slot on NBC in favor of four weekend "spectaculars" (as specials are still called), which they think will get them more attention. Guess what, boys? Breaking into two separate acts will get you twice as much attention.

And Perry Como explains to columnist Earl Wilson that he's not as calm as he appears on his variety show. "Sure, I fell so nervous I want to lie down," Perry says. "But there's no place to lie down, so I have to stand up there and sing." Of course, by this time, he didn't even have to worry about that:


***

And finally, some exciting news from TV Guide!

NEXT WEEK!

More articles, more features, more color!

All this and a lot more await you in next week's issue of TV GUIDE and in every issue to follow.

The reason: we are publishing more pages in our colorful feature section. We realize that we must grow as television grows. Hence, we are expanding our publication to keep faith with readers in more than 4,000,000 American homes.

The additional pages mean that nowhere else can you find such complete television coverage as well as such complete program service.

Don't miss your exciting new TV GUIDE starting next week!

Do I have that issue? No, but I've got the one from the following week. We'll have to see if there's any difference. One thing that I can tell you is that the famed crossword puzzle hasn't yet appeared, at least not in this issue. Will it be part of the change? That, of course, would be telling.

May 20, 2016

Around the dial

The wonderful character actor William Schallert died last week, and David at Comfort TV has a very nice tribute to him, reminding us of some of his best moments. If you're anywhere near my age, you couldn't turn on the television without running into him at one time or another - a true reminder of the classic age. A man to be missed, but he leaves us with many, many memories.

One of the things that made the best episodes of The Twilight Zone truly startling and unsettling was the makeup used to create some of its weird, memorable images. The Twilight Zone Vortex takes a look at three of the masters who made that magic happen.

There's nothing specific at Faded Signals, but if you haven't visited there recently take some time to peruse a fun collection of pictures and postcards of various radio and television studios and advertisements. If you're not careful you might find yourself still at it an hour or so later.

It's Friday, which means time for another round of reader questions that Ken Levine is set to answer, and there are some good ones, such as how the pictures used in opening title sequences are selected. And he's absolutely right - there aren't enough series that use them anymore. How many classic television shows can you think of where the tenor of show was set from the very beginning with the title music and graphics? Mannix, Mission: Imnpossible, Perry Mason, Star Trek - I could go on for some time, and I imagine you could as well.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to see Martin Grams at the Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention this fall, but in the meantime his blog is always good reading, and this week he has a very interesting piece (with some great photos!) of the untold market of antique radios. There are some television sets thrown in as well, guaranteed to bring back memories for some of us.

Television Obscurities has a piece this week on Mark Rathaus, the man who saved Movin' On, and you'll want to read it in preparation for my interview next week with Movin' On producer Barry Weitz. Mark reached out to me to see if there was any interest in Movin' On and interviewing Barry, and I'm very appreciate of his efforts in making it happen. A very nice, and dedicated, man.

It's time for another installment of Television's New Frontier: The 1960s, which this week takes a look at the 1961 season of The Donna Reed Show, one of those series to which I occasionally refer as straddling the two decades - a '50s show that nonetheless carries its identity and culture to the '60s. Always an interesting period in time.

May 18, 2016

Potpourri for $500

ART FLEMMING, PLAYING JEOPARDY! IN THE MOVIE AIRPLANE II THE SEQUEL
Remember the Jeopardy category "Potpourri"? It always fascinated me when I was a kid, because I didn't really recognize the word or know how to pronounce it - whenever Art Fleming said it, it would remind me of how he'd said it before, but it didn't stick - and I found it interesting that none of the questions seemed to relate to each other. Of course, later on I discovered that's that potpourri meant.*

*Speaking of Art Fleming's Jeopardy, did you know that the winner of the 1968 Tournament of Champions was Hutton Gibson, father of Mel?

Anyway, a little bit of this and that this week: announcements, questions, triv
  • You might have noticed a few new additions to the sidebar this week, and if you haven't I'm going to call your attention to them now: British TV Detectives, from the creator of Classic Film and TV Cafe, among other blogs (and who also happens to be the organizer of the Classic TV Blog Association), takes a look at, well, the British TV detective. The Twilight Zone Vortex is another newby to the sidebar; as the title might suggest, this is a detailed look, episode by episode, of the great series. Both of these are terrific sites, deserving of inclusion in your regular blog reading.
  • Another addition worthy of your attention is Movin' On, a site dedicated to the '70s classic of the same name, starring Claude Akins and Frank Converse. If you haven't thought about that show for awhile, this is a good time to brush up on it because next week I'll have an interview with Barry Weitz, one of the show's original producers. My thanks to Mark Rathaus for facilitating the interview, as well as answering some questions on his remastering of the series, now airing on Hulu and ProClassicTV.com.
  • Here's a question from reader Sue Ann, who asks: "My father was a guest hobbyist on Charley Weaver’s Hobby Lobby in 1959, but there’s no reference anywhere to that episode. I got to skip school and go with him to NYC. They didn’t know what to do with me during the show, so they put me backstage with celebrity guest Gloria DeHaven who flipped out that she was made my babysitter. ( I was a very mature 12-year-old and didn’t need a babysitter.) Is there any way to find it?" I've done some basic research, so far to no avail. Any suggestions out there?
  • A while back, reader Sheila Terrando asked about the mid-60s Saturday program on the Smithsonian. At her request, I'm trying to work on a story about it; does anyone have information they can share on that?
  • Finally, David Von Pein, the excellent collector of "As It Happened" video concerning the television coverage of JFK's assassination, recently posted something I'd not seen before: the CBS Evening News for November 25, 1963. As Walter Cronkite comments at the outset of this expanded one-hour broadcast, there really was only one story that day, that of the President's funeral. Nonetheless, about 50 minutes into the program Cronkite does digress to some of the other stories of that day, and it's a fascinating look at the shadows hanging over the date. By that, I mean that if one were able to somehow photograph that moment in time, one might be able to see dim, blurry images in that picture that can't quite be made out, ghosts from the future casting their looming shadows on the present:

    At 50:00 into the broadcast, Cronkite spends a minute reporting on "the bloodiest fighting in almost a year" in Vietnam, including "massive Communist attacks" on strategic areas near Saigon. Vietnam was, of course, a big story even then, with U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge skipping the funeral to return to Vietnam after consulting with the new President, Lyndon Johnson. Nonetheless, it certainly wasn't foremost in the minds of most Americans, not like it would be in a few years. Included is Cambodia's announcement of an air agreement with Red China, a foreshadowing of the misery to come in that country. There's also a note about Communist rebels in Venezuela, and while it took them a little longer to assume control, that too would come to pass.

    At 51:15, Cronkite notes the discovery of a dead young woman (later identified as Joann Graff) in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the tenth victim in 17 months of "Boston's mystery strangler." Yes, the Boston Strangler. It had only been earlier that year that two Boston newspaper reporters, Jean Cole and Loretta McLaughlin, had first used that phrase to describe the killer. In 1964 Albert DeSalvo is charged and pleads guilty to the crimes. In 1968, Tony Curtis stars in the movie of the same name; as I recall, in the scene portraying Miss Graff's murder, the television set in the background is showing coverage of the Kennedy assassination. It's been a long time since I saw that movie, though - feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

May 16, 2016

What's on TV? Saturday, May 19, 1962

We're back in Eastern New England this week for an interesting day of programming. I think that by 1962 we're well into the transitional period between the Golden Age of the '50s, when technological advances weren't that pronounced, and the programming we're familiar with when we think of the '60s. Although you don't see it in today's selection, the evening news is still 15 minutes and there are still many shows from the '50s on the regular schedule, and yet I sense that change is in the air. That's probably one reason I like this period of the '60s so much.

May 14, 2016

This week in TV Guide: May 19, 1962

Today's review comes to you courtesy of a new laptop, and while this shouldn't have anything to do with the content of the following, it's nice to think that a new laptop will lead to a new Golden Age of blogging. Well, a fella can dream, can't he?

The first subject of the first piece on this computer is no stranger to readers, since I've written in the past of my admiration for Naked City and its star, Paul Burke. This is the first starring role in a successful series for Burke, and the first chance for many to learn about this actor, who has fought long and hard to make it in acting. As one friend put it of the man who struggled to support a wife, three children, and eventually an aging father, "His perseverance under brutal burdens was not that of an ordinary man." But then, it's no surprise that a man who says "Acting is more exciting than living" would push through with determination to make it in the business.

It provides insight into this unusual man, the rare star who is both unknown and withdrawn, a man for whom stardom is a private experience. Oh, his co-stars talk of his talent, his willingness to be a team player, but it's mostly a smokescreen cast out by a man who doesn't want people to know much about himself. It's fascinating to read his words about why he understands characters better than he does people. With a character, you can deduce motives, predict behavior, understand values, just by reading the script. It all makes sense. Not so with humans, who often behave illogically, who are "rarely what they say they are." He can be verbose, talking with excitement and intensity, when he is with someone he trusts, but otherwise... Edith Efron makes a perceptive comment at the conclusion of her profile, referring to Burke as a man who simultaneously seeks to conquer the world and retreat from it.

I like Burke a lot in Naked City; he's a smart, dedicated cop who never lets cynicism overwhelm duty, who brings a sense of dignity to a difficult job. His next starring vehicle, Twelve O'Clock High, is not as good; it was a mistake for Quinn Martin to sack Robert Lansing in the starring role, and while Burke is not bad as the new lead, it's really a no-win situation. After that, Burke is seen mostly in guest starring roles, but to see what he's really capable of, you can't do better than Naked City.

***

ALL: HADLEY TV GUIDE COLLECTION
While Paul Burke was driven to success, Marlo Thomas was never raised to be an actress, but she became one anyway.

Danny Thomas' daughter has just finished a season as one of the regulars on The Joey Bishop Show, leaving at season's end to look form something more substantial. "The part left me feeling like a piece of furniture. I expected it to get bigger, but it didn't, and I want to do something else next season." The fact that she was on the Bishop show at all is something of a surprise, considering her dad wanted her to be a schoolteacher instead of an actress. "He always went around the house saying there shouldn't be any women in show business - it was too hard on them." Nevertheless, once he found out her daughter had been bitten by the acting bug, he encouraged her to see Sanford Meisner, head talent coach for 20th Century Fox.

Soon she was studying with Meisner five days a week, and after that came some small parts: Dobie Gillis, 77 Sunset Strip, Triller, Zane Grey Theater. When she received the offer to do Bishop, she was uncertain - the show is produced by her father, and she "didn't want people thinking I had to work on one of my father's shows." However, the producers, Lou Edelman and Sheldon Leonard, convinced her that the part was right for her and she was right for the part, and the rest is history.

I don't know how many people think of Marlo Thomas any more. Most of her visibility comes from the work she does for St. Jude, the charity that Danny Thomas established. But just a few years after this article, she really comes into her own with the starring role in That Girl, the one that will forever take her out of her father's shadow.

***

There's a new craze sweeping the nation, and it's called Password. It's one of those shows that the public has taken to right away, and as this article says, "It is flatly impossible to avoid playing the game along with the contestants while one watches." That, and the willingness of big stars to make fools of themselves, either by providing awful clues or by giving terrible answers, is one of the big reasons for the show's appeal. And even though a home version of the game will be in stores sooner or later, it remains most fun if you play along with the people on the show.

I always liked Password, and it's almost impossible to imagine it without host Allen Ludden (although Tom Kennedy took over after Ludden's stroke and ultimate death in 1981), but I was never particularly a fan of Ludden himself. I always thought he was a big smarmy and smooth, like a used car salesman, and he had this annoying habit of condensation toward contestants when they didn't measure up to what he thought was good game-playing. Now, I'll admit there are times that you like to see a host treat a contestant for what they are - stupid - but these people weren't always that, and I didn't think Ludden was particularly charitable about it. I'd always wondered if it was just me, if I was reading in something that wasn't there, but my feelings were confirmed when I caught an episode of College Bowl a few years ago from the time in which Ludden was the host, before Robert Earle took over, and I found Ludden to be the same way. Oh well. For what it's worth, I was never that big a fan of Betty White either, though I'm sure they were a lovely couple, and that she's still lots of fun to be around. Let's just chalk it up to different strokes for different folks.

***

On ABC's Saturday night Fight of the Week, Don Dunphy brings us a heavyweight bout from New York with a fighter you just might have heard about: Cassius Clay. The former Olympic gold medalist, currently ranked by The Ring magazine as the #9 heavyweight in the world with a record of 13 wins and no defeats, takes on unranked Billy Daniels in a ten-round bout, one which Clay wins when the fight is stopped by referee Mark Conn in the seventh round. Did the ref stop it too early? Check out the broadcast and find out.


The win lifts Clay up to 14-0, and continues his march toward the top of the heavyweight ranks. In less than two years - February 1964, to be precise - he'll take on champion Sonny Liston for the heavyweight crown. Despite being a 7-1 underdog, the younger man takes it to the champ, and emerges from the fight with a seventh-round TKO, the heavyweight championship, and the beginning of his place in sports history.

Also on Saturday, CBS presents the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico in Baltimore, where Greek Money scores an upset victory over Ridan. Here's where you can see the race, including the controversial finish.

***

The lead female vocalist on The Lawrence Welk Show is known as the "Champagne Lady," and Welk's current Lady, the one I grew up with, is Norma Zimmer. I mention this only because in next week's TV Guide we'll have a look at the previous Champagne Lady, Alice Lon. Tune in then.

***

Tuesday night is Emmy night - the awards show, as we've mentioned before, used to come at the end of the television season in May, rather than the beginning of the subsequent season in the fall - and it's on live on NBC at 10:00pm ET, with three hosts - Johnny Carson in New York, Bob Newhart in Hollywood, and David Brinkley in Washington.

The Emmys have always had a kind of scrambled categorization process, fitting for a medium that has to tread the line between weekly programs, specials, guest star appearances, starring regulars, and different genres of program, not to mention the likelihood of the same shows and stars being nominated year after year. This year's list of shows tells us something about how television has changed - or perhaps, we should say, how viewer's tastes have changed. Take, for instance, the "Program of the Year" category, the one that's supposed to be most equivalent to Best Picture at the Oscars. This is the category that lumps together programs of all different kinds, and the nominees are proof of that: CBS Reports: Biography of a Bookie Joint (CBS); The Judy Garland Show (CBS); The Hallmark Hall of Fame: Victoria Regina (NBC); Vincent Van Gogh: A Self Portrait (NBC); and Bell and Howell Close-Up! Walk in My Shoes (ABC). I'm not sure how high the ratings for those shows are, but it indicates the importance with which the television academy regards "serious" programming. (Victoria Regina, by the way, was the winner.) It's also interesting that one of the nominees for Best Actress is Mary Stuart for the soap opera Search for Tomorrow.

The Dick Powell Show is one of the most nominated programs, up not only for Best Drama but with three nominations for Best Actor (Peter Falk won for one of those episodes, "The Price of Tomatoes"), while Victoria Regina, Naked City and People Need People are also among the multiple nominees. The major winners are The Bob Newhart Show ("Best Humor"), The Defenders (Best Drama), The Garry Moore Show (Best Variety), Julie Harris (Best Actress, for Victoria Regina), E.G. Marshall (Best Series Actor, as opposed to Best Actor in in a single performance), and Shirley Booth (Best Series Actress). If you want to know more, you can see all the nominees and winners here.

***

Elsewhere on the dial this week, you might recall that a month ago I mentioned the 1968 showing of the classic antiwar drama Paths of Glory on ABC, which sponsor Xerox described as resurrecting it from the late show. Well, here it is on Saturday's late show - at 11:15pm on WJAR, Channel 10 in Providence, to be specific. No matter what time it comes on, though, it remains a powerful film. At the same time, as part of a double-feature on Boston's Channel 7, WNAC, it's Mr. Lucky, with Cary Grant and Laraine Day. The TV series, with John Vivyan, was ostensibly a spin-off, but aside from the title and the fact the title character was a gambler, there isn't much resemblance. Vivyan tries to be smooth, like Cary Grant, but Craig Stevens does it much better in Peter Gunn.

According to Stephen Battaglio's biography on David Susskind, one of the works the producer was most proud of was an adaptation of Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, starring Laurence Olivier and George C. Scott. Well, there's an adaptation of The Power and the Glory on this Sunday, just not that one. This stars James Donald and Ronald Long, and although it appears on Susskind's drama anthology The Play of the Week, it's with substantially less star power. Still, it emphasizes a point made in an interesting ad for the program from WGAN, Channel 13 in Portland, ME: "Program Quality is the Trademark of TV Leadership." Also on Sunday, ABC presents the TV premiere of the epic movie Moby Dick, starring Gregory Peck, Richard Basehart, Orson Welles, Leo Genn and Royal Dano. Too bad they couldn't get any big names.

On Monday, the tacky daytime show Queen for a Day starts a week's run live from the Seattle World's Fair, the event responsible for giving us the Space Needle. It what must have been an entertaining show, The Price is Right (NBC, 8:30pm ET) promises us prizes that "run the gamut from barbecue sets to fur coats." And on The Tonight Show, still awaiting the arrival of Johnny Carson once his ABC contract expires, Jan Murray begins a week as guest host.

Tuesday, Password (8:00pm, CBS) begins three weeks of programs from Hollywood, rather than its regular home of New York. Tonight's guests are Edie Adams and Dennis Weaver. The Dick Powell Show (9:00pm, NBC), which we certainly saw enough of on the Emmy nominations list, presents one of those nominated episodes - "Somebody's Waiting," which earned a Best Actor nomination for its star, Mickey Rooney. It's on up against a fellow nominee, CBS' The Red Skelton Show.

The late movie on WNAC Wednesday is part one of another double feature. It's the 1947 noir classic Crossfire, a Best Picture nominee starring Robert Young as a policeman, Robert Ryan as a suspected murderer, and Robert Mitchum as the suspect's friend. I'd joke that apparently you had to be named Robert to get in that movie, but it's too good to joke about - a terrific thriller. The second half of the movie, Mr. Moto Takes a Chance, stars Peter Lorre as the "diminutive Oriental detective."

Thursday: Mary Astor, memorable in The Maltese Falcon (along with Peter Lorre), is the guest star on Dr. Kildare, Earlier in the day, the original Dr. Kildare - Lew Ayers - is in the 1939 movie Calling Dr. Kildare on WNAC. They had a pretty good movie library, didn't they?

Friday: A hard-hitting episode of The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor (8:30pm, NBC) features a rare television appearance by Edward G. Robinson as the last of the big-time mobsters, "Big Jim" Riva. If you were watching it, you might have noticed one of the regulars, Adam West (in his pre-Batman days), and another by Tige Andrews (in his pre-Mod Squad days). Meanwhile, a pre-Mission: Impossible Peter Graves appears in the evocatively-named "Hell Is Empty, All the Devils Are Here*" on Route 66.

*The line comes from The Tempest by Shakespeare, and has lately been used to describe our own times.

A pretty good lineup for an interesting week.

May 13, 2016

Around the Dial

Bare-bones e-zine returns with another installment of the Hitchcock project, this time looking at the third season episode "Guest for Breakfast." It's a chilling little story, a great demonstration of how much drama one can pack into a half-hour time slot.

You may have noticed an addition to the sidebar - a new member of the Classic TV Blog Association! It's British TV Detectives, by the author of Classic Film and TV Blog, and one of Rick's first pieces is on the '90s series Cadfael, starring Derek Jacobi. These were very well-made episodes, great fun to watch.

May 11 was National Twilight Zone Day, and I should have done something about it, particularly since I knew about it in advance. Well, I didn't - but fortunately for you, Monstergirl at The Last Drive In did, and it ought to bring some good memories back. Perhaps my life just feels too much like The Twilight Zone for me to write about it...

I don't know how long the season one DVD of Maverick has been on my shopping list - at least since shortly after it came out - but I never get around to picking it up. Oh well. That's why The Horn Section exists - to remind you that it's about time. This week, Maverick Mondays tells us about the 1960 episode "Maverick and Juliet", with both James Garner and Jack Kelly sharing in the fun.

Until this week, the only series named Tightrope that I was familiar with was the '60s series featuring Mike Connors, but now, thanks to Cult TV Blog, there's another. Since this is "Our Sort of Television," count on this one going into the queue to find and watch.

Stephen Bowie of The Classic TV History Blog is back with another of his fascinating interviews, this one with producer David Levinson. If you're wondering why that name sounds familiar, all you have to do is check this out, and look at the credits for the show's he's worked on - almost a who's who of classic television from the '70s.

In the mood for a book or movie rather than a TV show? At The Lucky Strike Papers, Andrew gives us both, as he gives a plug to the mystery The Girl on the Train, having seen a commercial for the film version. Like him, I hadn't been aware that the movie was forthcoming. Unlike him, I haven't read the book yet, but I've read about it long enough that it has to go on the list as well.

Speaking of books, as far as I'm concerned, you can never have too many books about a specific period of television history. Some might think that a book chronicling single season sitcoms would be a bit much, but not Television Obscurities, and I'm with him. We need more books like this if we're going to fully appreciate those shows that are just as much a part of TV history as the big hits.

And if this doesn't give you enough to feed on, come back Saturday - we've got an entire TV Guide for you to chew on.

May 11, 2016

Giving a series the (re)boot

I've been sitting here the last couple of weeks wondering what I was going to write for today. Well, not literally - it isn't as if I've done nothing for fourteen days but sit here witlessly, waiting for my fingers to come up with some miraculous combination of letters forming words you'd be interested in reading. There's going to the bathroom, for one thing. But you know what I mean.

It's not that I don't have topics on my to-do list. There's a perfectly good post on the early '60s series The Rebel and how, both on- and off-camera, it epitomizes the existential quandary of America, and when I finally do finish it I'm sure it will be to my satisfaction, but it's become so rambling and disjointed that, rather than tighten it up and finish it, I just keep pushing it out from Wednesday to Wednesday. It must be scheduled for sometime in October by now; on the other hand, you could be reading it next week. That's just how it goes sometimes. If you're a fellow blogger, then you understand.

Anyway, I was making my own rounds of sites I read, looking for equal parts inspiration and amusement, when I came across this quote from Lileks, discussing how he's rewatching the last rebooted Star Trek movie in preparation for the new one when it comes out. He has no problems with the new set of movies, which means he's a better man than I - I never really got into the Star Trek sequels beyond the first couple of years of ST: TNG, when the show's overt liberalism finally got the best of me, and I never bothered with the rest, including the latest series of films. I don't mock those who have watched them and either loved or hated them; this is just my opinion. But I digress: to Lileks:

This is why I hate "Mission Impossible" movies on general principle: the first one broke faith with the story in a way that poisoned everything else. It's like learning that Bond was always working for an offshoot of SMERSH. There are some things you shouldn't do just for the sake of "revitalizing" a "franchise," and while the second New Star Trek movie did not give us a convincing Khan - he lacked that musky scent of rich Corinthian leather - it carried me along as it happened. 

He is, of course, talking about the first Mission: Impossible movie from 1996, in which it was discovered at the end of the movie that Jim Phelps, that stalwart all-American spy so ably played on TV by Peter Graves, was in actuality a traitor who'd sold out his country. As far as shock value goes it was effective, and because an entire generation of television viewers had lived with Phelps as the hero, there perhaps wasn't the level of suspicion that would have normally surrounded the Man Above Suspicion in a run-of-the-mill spy thriller.

But for all that, there was something extremely distasteful about it all. Lileks is right; there are just some things you don't do, because they don't make sense. Why reboot Mission: Impossible, using the Jim Phelps character, if you don't intend to include some continuity from the series? And if that's what you want, than you don't make that rebooted character do something so completely at odds with the existing character that it stretches credulity beyond the breaking point. It would have been more plausible to have Tom Cruise's character flap his arms and fly under his own power than to have Jim Phelps sell out his country. Why not just have Phelps hand things over to a new boss, who turns out to be a traitor? But then, Brian DePalma makes millions of dollars thinking up that kind of thing, while I provide you with sage television insight four times a week for free.*

*Mission: Impossible, of course, rebooted itself as a TV series in 1988, complete with Peter Graves as Jim Phelps and Greg Morris' son, Phil, succeeding his father. It suffered from many of the weaknesses of shows from that era, but it is certainly acceptable as a continuation of the original.

It got me thinking about reboots, though, which was a good thing since the new Bates Motel had an apparently earth-shattering moment on Monday night; I won't reveal it if you're watching the series and haven't seen this episode yet, but let's just say it's brought the series (a prequel to the movie Psycho set in current times) full circle to the movie. I've never seen Bates Motel, but I've read enough of the weekly reviews at the AV Club to get the gist of it, and if the new series has changed some of the canonical detail, it's gotten enough of it right that it seems to have pleased most Psycho fans. One of the things the creators did which was absolutely spot-on was to update the series to modern day; by doing this, viewers were tipped off right away that they were not to expect a seamless transition between the series and the movie, that there were things that would, by definition, be different between the two. It's a neat way of disarming would-be critics from the get-go, and from everything I've read, it's proven to be quite effective.

Not all reboots can boast such success, though. Again, this is just my opinion, but the new Hawaii Five-0 has little in common with its illustrious predecessor. Whereas Jack Lord's Five-O men solved their cases through hard work and a bit of good fortune, the new series is pretty much indistinguishable from other procedurals/action shoot 'em ups that grace CBS' schedule these days. In particular, an episode that involved the new McGarrett journeying to North Korea (!) to exact revenge for the death of a former colleague reeked of the kind of "lone cowboy" adventure that the classic McGarrett would never have countenanced, either from himself or any members of the team. Aside from cashing in on the good name of Hawaii's best-known and most-loved police drama, I can't really see any reason for its resurrection.

One of the trademarks of a reboot seems to be the introduction of "depth" to characters that previously might have been seen as one-dimensional by today's standards. I've made this point many times in the past, but dramatic programs of the '50s and '60s (and early '70s) were often free from the soap opera elements that their heavily serialized offspring seem to love. On the face of it this can make sense; the cops from those classic shows, for example, seldom seem to show any residual effect from killing so many bad guys, and unless you're Mike Hammer, this kind of sounds doubtful. However, when you mix it in with the "sensitive, introspective" characterizations that themselves have become stereotypical today, you start to lose track of the fact that the characters exist in the first place to serve the investigative element of the show. I'd contend it's like the difference between Ben Casey and General Hospital. They're both set in hospitals, both feature doctors, and that's about where the similarity ends.

A show that for the most part has balanced the old and the new effectively is the BBC's revival of Doctor Who. Note that I use the word "revival" rather than "reboot," because the new series is in fact a continuation, rather than a reimagination, of the classic version. The entire history of the old show has been incorporated into the new, up to and including flashbacks to old episodes and the appearance of old and familiar characters, played by the original actors. Unlike Hawaii Five-0, it's not just borrowed the name of the series and characters; unlike Mission: Impossible, it hasn't violated the integrity of the existing characters; unlike Bates Motel it hasn't made a timeshift or otherwise altered things. No, it's tried to do the most difficult thing of all: it expects you to be able to watch the entire series, from the debut in 1963, through the TV movie of 1996 and to the new series starting in 2005, and see it all as part of the same creation, with one storyline that has run interrupted for more than 50 years. While the new Who has dramatically upgraded its special effects and has given The Doctor some of those very elements that I've just criticized, it's managed to do it all within the spirit of the original series. There are some things about it that I don't like, and I'll always prefer the original, but some of the new episodes have been outstanding, many more have been riveting, and I'm much happier having the new stories than having had the series end way back in 1988. I think I can speak for most Whovians in that regard.

This kind of thing isn't easy, though; for every movie like Harrison Ford's big screen version of The Fugitive that succeeds spectacularly in bringing the original TV series to life in a new and bold way, there must be a hundred small-screen to big-screen adaptations that stink. (Remember Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman in The Avengers?) Attempts to resurrect successful series of the past in a present day format are just as problematic, as reboots of Perry MasonSea Hunt and Route 66 will testify. The rebirth of The Prisoner as a limited series was a disappointing attempt to explain the unexplainable to most viewers; fans didn't think it measured up to the original, and newcomers probably wouldn't have been attracted to it in the first place.* The new Untouchables was really more a TV version of the Kevin Costner movie** than it was a reboot of the Robert Stack classic. Even the movie versions of Perry Mason starring Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale were far from an unqualified success; many Mason fans don't consider them part of the series canon despite having two of the original stars, and I'm inclined to agree.

*Although Sir Ian McKellen did make a dandy Number Two, I thought.

**And there's that name again, Brian DePalma. But the movie version of The Untouchables really didn't try to link itself with the TV series, except for the title and the lead cop and criminals. It succeeds very well on its own merits, apart from the original series.

Of all the TV series that sought to be resurrected, the Star Trek sequels are probably the most successful; my dislike of them shouldn't be construed as anything other than personal preference. Reboots of anthology series from The Twilight Zone to The Outer Limits are hit-and-miss themselves, with good episodes and bad; at least the new version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents had the advantage of the original Hitchcock introductions, colorized though they might have been. For shows like these, you're simply going to have to argue out whether or not the writing and acting of the past is superior or inferior to that of the present, and if you can have Zone without Rod Serling.

But most of the time it seems to me that a reboot of a classic show is really one of two things: 1) an attempt to cash in on a venerable, proven name; or 2) a sign of laziness on the part of those who are paid to come up with new ideas. And in such cases, I think it's probably best to paraphrase that old cliche about sleeping dogs: let old TV classics lie, or at least leave them to be reborn on DVD, rather than remaking them altogether. For that you will have my eternal gratitude.

May 9, 2016

What's on TV? Tuesday, May 20, 1958

This week it's fun with TV show titles. Don't worry, this won't turn into a regular feature, but sometimes you just have to have a little fun.

Oh, by the way, this week's listings are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Let's get started.

May 7, 2016

This week in TV Guide: May 17, 1958

Although Danny Thomas is on the cover of this week's issue, the article within is actually about Marjorie Lord, the "second wife" to Thomas' character, Danny Williams, on his successful sitcom.

Lord joined the show in the fourth season, after Williams' "first" wife, Jean Hagen, left the show (partly, it has been said, because of her acrimonious relationship with Thomas). The writers solved the problem by killing off Hagen's character Margaret between seasons; when the show resumed for its fourth season, Danny Williams was now a widower, it being explained that Margaret had "died suddenly" According to the always-reliable Wikipedia, this was the first time a main character had ever been killed off in a sitcom, though it certainly wouldn't be the last.

There are, generally speaking, three reasons why an actor leaves a television series: they're tired of or unhappy with the role, they leave because of a contract dispute or are simply fired, or they leave due to illness or death. It's always a roll of the dice when a cast change is made - some shows, like The Danny Thomas Show, adapt without missing a beat. Some, like M*A*S*H, evolve into a series with a much different tenor, while Doctor Who famously made the change in lead actors into an integral part of the show, introducing The Doctor's ability to change appearance through regeneration - a little trick that has enabled the series to continue (with one lengthy break) for over fifty years. Some, such as Bewitched, create a whimsical "which Darrin do you like best?" history, with fans forming camps behind one or the other actors. Some shows, like Route 66, suffer either artistically or in the ratings when they change main characters, losing whatever chemistry made the show a success; these series generally wind up in the cancellation bin.

The article itself doesn't go into the reaction that must have occurred when Hagen's character was killed off, noting only that "her absence has not hurt the popularity of the show, which has consistently landed in or near TV's Top 10." It will remain on television until 1964, which seems to qualify this change as a success. It could have been a failure though, and one wonders, if the recast show had bombed and it therefore became an accepted fact that you couldn't recast a main character, what television history might have been like.

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On a special 90-minute episode of NBC's Sunday afternoon news program Outlook, Chet Huntley looks at the forecast for the next ten years for Israel. The discussions center around irrigation, immigration and military training, all of which have played significant roles in Israel's history.

Now, the odds are that any ten-year period you look at in Israel's future is going to include either at least one outright war or multiple military conflicts of one kind or another. In this case, it's the Six-Day War of 1967, in which the Israelis launched a preemptive strike against Egypt, which had been massing troops along the common border. At the request of Egyptian president Nasser, who suffered massive losses in that initial attack, Jordan and Syria also became involved. When the dust had settled, less than a week later, Israel had scored a decisive military victory, capturing the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. It was a dramatic demonstration of the country's willingness to act aggressively and unilaterally to any perceived threat to its security. When you recall that the duration of wars used to be measured in centuries, the idea of a major war lasting less than a week is shocking.

Since then, the region has been no stranger to continued turmoil. If you were to choose another ten-year period, you'd likely run into the Olympic Massacre in Munich in 1972,  the Yom Kippur War in 1973 (in many ways the sequel to the Six-Day War), the first Gulf War in 1991, and countless low-level exchanges and terrorist incursions, not to mention the raid on Entebbe*. You also would have seen the peace accords between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and Jordan.

*Many of which have been made into television movies and documentaries. One could do an entire piece, if not a book, on how the Middle East conflict has been portrayed on television.

Really, has there been any country in the post-World War II era that has had as dramatic a history as that of Israel? And I wonder if any of this could have been foreseen in Chet Huntley's report?

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I've written off-and-on during this time period about Sid Caesar, who was never quite able to recapture the magic of his years with Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows. As proof of that, there's this bit in the news and notes section that says he "had to reach into his happier past and buy sketches used on the Show of Shows which made him famous. He is reported physically ill as a result of the severe strain of this current season." A comic genius, and a troubled man.

We also read that the eccentric actor/comedian/pianist/composer Oscar Levant, currently hosting a talk show in Los Angeles, is being looked at to possibly have his show transferred to a national audience. I like Oscar Levant a lot: he had an acid, sometimes cruel wit; he was a complete neurotic who spent significant time in various mental institutions, a classical pianist who studied with Arnold Schoenberg, worked with Aaron Copeland, and was friends with George Gershwin and Al Jolson; and, as we read, he was a talk show host.

Here's a clip of Levant with Jack Paar:



Here he is (in a very shaky recording) on his own show, with guest Fred Astaire:



And here is a recording that demonstrates his classical music credentials, performing Chopin's Etude in C# minor, Op.10:


Like Sid Caesar, a very troubled man - and a very, very talented one.

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The highlight of this week's sports calendar is the second jewel of horse racing's Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, telecast live on CBS from Pimlico in Baltimore.*

*Just last week, we saw the Kentucky Derby. See how quickly time flies? That's what happens with a concept as elastic as "This Week in TV Guide."

It's worth mentioning again that the broadcast of the race is minuscule compared to the saturation coverage we see nowadays. It starts at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, and ends at 4:00. But then, after all, the race lasts just under two minutes. Tim Tam, the Kentucky Derby winner, adds the Preakness to his resume, and becomes a heavy favorite to take the Belmont Stakes in three weeks, only to succumb to injury in the home stretch, finishing second to Cavan. His consolation prize: a successful stud career. Oh well.

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Fifteen minutes before the start of Preakness coverage, at 3:15 p.m. on KRLD, it's the sports with Bill Sherrod. KRLD, at the time, was a CBS affiliate and was owned by the Dallas Times Herald. Working for the Times Herald at the time was a 38-year old sportswriter named William Forrest "Blackie" Sherrod - the same Bill Sherrod?

Blackie Sherrod died last week at age 96. At his death, he was acclaimed "the greatest Texas sportswriter of his generation or any other, now and forevermore" by the Dallas Morning News. He had an obituary in The New York Times, another in Newsday. Obviously, it's not every sportswriter from Texas that gets notices in New York newspapers.

Perhaps the only industry that loves hyperbole as much as sports is politics, but in calling Blackie Sherrod one of the greatest sportswriters of all time is no hyperbole - just stating a fact. He won the Texas Sportswriter of the Year award 16 times and received the Red Smith Award for lifetime achievement. During a career that spanned more than six decades, he won so many awards that "he stopped keeping plaques or certificates for anything other than first place." He outlived two of the newspapers for which he wrote. He mentored many future writers, including Dan Jenkins, the best sportswriter I've ever read. He was also more than just sports - he covered political conventions, moon shots, and was a major player in the Times Herald's coverage of the Kennedy assassination, leading a fellow writer to call him "the best newspaperman I ever knew."

It wasn't uncommon back in the day for newspaper writers to appear on television, or for TV figures to have newspaper columns. This is back in the days before these shows devolved into shoutfests, when writers were more interested in transmitting how much information they knew than they were being clever for being crude. (See Bayless, Skip - a fellow Texan, I'm sorry to say - for further information.) Now, of course, we live in the era of television specialists, of newsreaders whose prime qualifications often are how well they come out of the makeup chair; and the advent of the internet means that virtually everyone is a newspaper columnist, albeit some better than others.

It's not likely, however, that the internet will produce someone like Blackie Sherrod, someone with style and smarts and longevity, someone who demonstrated that newspaper writing was a craft, an art form of its own. In virtually every area of communications today, we live in a post-literate society, with the well-crafted word being devalued every day. I don't know that this trend can be turned around, but there will always be those who try, and to them, as to Dan Jenkins, Blackie Sherrod will be considered "our hero."